Artists of the Harlem Renaissance

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renaissance [REN-uh-sahns] noun

 a renewal of interest and achievement in the areas of art, music, and literature

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After World War I ended in 1918, there were more jobs available in the cities. African Americans began to move to the cities in droves. Most moved to major cities like Detroit, Chicago, and New York City. In the 1920s black artists, musicians, and writers began to make their mark on America. Many of these talented individuals lived in (or moved to) Harlem, a neighborhood in New York City. This time period became known as the Harlem Renaissance.

There were so many African American writers, poets, artists, and musicians who contributed to this movement. Many of these artists crossed over to white audiences. This means they became popular to white audiences as well as black audiences. Many also played key roles in the Civil Rights Movement. Here is some information about a few of these talented individuals.

Jazz music was a huge part of the Harlem Renaissance movement. And Louis Armstrong was a huge part of the Jazz movement. Armstrong was born in 1901 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He became one of the most influential musicians in jazz history. Armstrong played trumpet and sang. He is known for his unique trumpet style. He is also known for songs like “What a Wonderful World.”

Armstrong helped make scatting a popular part of jazz. Scatting is singing using fun nonsense words like, “Scoobydo- wap-wap.” In 1937, Armstrong became the first black person to host a national radio show.

Visual arts were another important part of the Harlem Renaissance. Visual arts include things like painting and sculpture. Augusta Savage was a sculptor. She was one of the leading artists of the Harlem Renaissance movement. Savage was born in Florida in 1892. She moved to New York City in the early 1920s. She studied art at Cooper Union college. In 1929, she went to Paris, France to study sculpture. When Savage returned, she worked as a sculptor, taught art, and was a civil rights activist. In 1939, she was hired to create a sculpture for the New York World’s Fair. She created “The Harp,” which was 16 feet tall.

Langston Hughes was a poet and a playwright (he wrote plays). Hughes was born in 1902 in Missouri. In 1921, he moved to New York City. He went to Columbia University. While there, he published his first poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” In New York, Hughes became a fan of jazz music. He saw many jazz bands. He met and became friends with many other artists in Harlem. Hughes became known for writing about black themes and history in a way that everyone could relate.

Zora Neale Hurston was an author and civil rights activist. Hurston was the daughter of former slaves. She was born in 1891 in Alabama, but grew up in Florida. She moved to Harlem in the early 1920s. She quickly became part of the Harlem Renaissance scene. Hurston was a very serious student. She got a scholarship to study anthropology at Barnard College. Anthropologists study humans’ social customs and beliefs. Hurston was very interested in folklore. She included African folklore in her most famous book, Their Eyes Were Watching God, which was published in 1937.